A QUICK, BUD­GET-FRIENDLY MEAL

RESTAU­RANT RE­VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - ALANA HUD­SON The look: The feel: Hours:

The warmer weather had not quite hit yet, so it seemed right that we were head­ing out for some steam­ing pho.

The des­ti­na­tion: Pho Dui Bo, a fam­ily-run busi­ness which has been on Cannon East near the in­ter­sec­tion with James since 1999. (Its name changed about a month ago, from Pho Dau Bo.)

Park­ing close to the restau­rant can be a bit of a chal­lenge; spa­ces out front are limited and shared with neigh­bour­ing busi­nesses. For­tu­nately, a car pulled out soon af­ter we had un­suc­cess­fully tried to squeeze into a tight spot.

Across the build­ing’s f acade each win­dow pane has a frosted strip that says “Wel­come.” But don’t ex­pect f awning wait staff here. The goal is quick and tasty and, on many fronts, Pho Dui Bo de­liv­ers. That is not to say there is no am­bi­ence. Plants are scat­tered through­out the restau­rant; one, pos­si­bly a braided money tree, stretches up be­hind light wood coun­ters f ac­ing the en­try for a homey touch.

A young woman quickly seated us at a ta­ble. Lots of room for larger groups. Near us, a cou­ple of peo­ple worked on lap­tops as they ate solo, and a few f am­i­lies filled in other ta­bles. As we sipped steeped tea, we looked through the novel of a menu. I grabbed a pen­cil to write down our or­der amid the whir of a blender that drowned out barely au­di­ble back­ground mu­sic.

I was look­ing for­ward to try­ing the pen­ny­wort leaf milk­shake. I looked up pen­ny­wort on­line and found out it is an herb na­tive to Asia. An herb milk­shake?

Our drinks ar­rived quickly and the milk­shake did not dis­ap­point. Pea soup green, and tast­ing like mildly sweet pars­ley. Sur­pris­ingly de­li­cious!

My two com­pan­ions for the evening got a co­conut shake and a salted lime juice. The shake was full-on co­conut, in smoothie form. The salted lime juice was like a bub­bly, soda-based mar­garita, with­out the booze. Both were re­fresh­ing.

Af­ter a lit­tle con­ver­sa­tion, out came … ev­ery­thing else. The dishes ar­rived in a flurry, with a brief pause be­tween each de­liv­ery. We had or­dered plenty, of course, and the plates got shifted around as each new dish ar­rived.

First, the steamed rice rolls with Viet­namese sausage. Mildly spiced ground pork in­side a warm and pleas­antly stretchy, rice noo­dle wrap. Dipped in the sweet, vine­gary nuoc cham sauce served with it, the rolls were com­fort­ing and pleas­ant.

The bologna-like slices of sausage that came on the side had a Spam-like tex­ture that did not res­onate with me.

The mango salad was enor­mous. At $10.75 it wasn’t ex­actly cheap, but its size jus­ti­fied the price. The pick­led car­rots and daikon ran a lit­tle on the sweet side, but in a sat­is­fy­ing way. With fresh mint thrown in and sliced beef adding the umami el­e­ment, it was a re­fresh­ing as­sort­ment of flavours.

Next, the much an­tic­i­pated pho. Steam­ing noo­dles, with rare beef and “well done lightly fat beef.” A plate of bean sprouts and sprig of basil on the side. The sliced onions on top were not cooked through, which was a tad un­usual. But the pip­ing hot broth was wel­come. Not un­flavour­ful but not the rich­est broth, ei­ther, it had a laid-back base that be­came quite tasty af­ter I

added the hot sauce, basil and sprouts pro­vided.

Our server checked in a cou­ple of times while we were oc­cu­pied with the feast be­fore us.

Seafood and pork soup, hu tieu my tho: quite nice with a heady, sweet broth sug­gest­ing clams and crab, and pars­ley adding an herby un­der­cur­rent. But the egg noo­dles were thin and lacked char­ac­ter while the bar­be­cue pork tasted slightly cured and had a chewy tex­ture, some­what akin to pro­sciutto.

The high­light was the sautéed egg­plant with chicken and rice. Soft, with a mild chicken sauce. And, with a lit­tle hot sauce added, just the thing to warm me up.

The last thing we tasted was the pad Thai. Again, a bit un­usual: bright orange, like Denver Bron­cos’ uni­forms, with a sauce that went heavy on the toma­toes. Sliced onions on top again, along with scal­lions, peanuts and a lime wedge on the side. I wouldn’t have minded some fish sauce flavour but the dish was pleas­ant, if a touch sweet.

I tried to catch our server’s eye a cou­ple of times to get the cheque, be­fore re­al­iz­ing that din­ers just head to the front counter to set­tle up. The woman who cashed me out was brisk yet friendly when I asked her how long the restau­rant had been open.

Eigh­teen years. Plenty of time to master the art of the quick, bud­get-friendly meal.

And if you don’t feel like com­ing down­town, there are lo­ca­tions (both called Pho Dau Bo) on Up­per James and in Stoney Creek.

Alana Hud­son has cooked at restau­rants in­clud­ing Le Bernardin, Vong, and Avalon.

Sliced beef topped the mango salad, which was pleas­antly sweet.

The goal is quick and tasty and, on many fronts, Pho Dau Bo de­liv­ers.

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